Denzel Ward has introduced himself to several new teammates over the last four months, but he won't have to do much on the field to leave a good first impression with them throughout mandatory minicamp this week in Berea.
Ward, the fourth-year cornerback from Ohio State, has already done plenty to prove himself as a key pillar of the Browns defense. With seven interceptions and 40 passes defensed in three seasons, Ward has provided the Browns with a consistent shutdown presence ever since they drafted him fourth overall in 2018.
Now, he'll have a room full of new — and proven — faces around him, ready to turn Cleveland's defense into perhaps one of the most formidable units in the NFL.
"I was excited about it," Ward said when asked about the haul of defensive free agents and draft picks the Browns accumulated over the offseason. "I thought (Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry) made some great moves and great additions to the team that can help us team up."
Ward and the rest of the Browns will have their first opportunity to see how the new pieces fit this week. Mandatory minicamp marks the first time this offseason that all 90 Browns players will be on the same field, and the full attendance will provide plenty of early glimpses at how position battles and schemes of defensive coordinator Joe Woods will progress.
From a schematic perspective, don't expect the defense to look similar from last year. Woods previously spoke this offseason about how he plans to use the nickel and dime formations with more frequency this offseason. Ward, of course, will be one of them, while Greedy Williams, free-agent addition Troy Hill and 2021 first-round pick Greg Newsome II could be in the cornerback formula, too.
No matter the schemes, Ward believes the Browns are positioned for success simply off the high quantity of depth across the entire defense.
"With the guys this year, we're going to be able to do a lot of things," Ward said. "I'm sure Joe is going to take advantage of that."
Beyond his position group, Ward is surrounded by some of the best defensive players who became available at the start of 2021 free agency.
Behind him at safety will be John Johnson III, who established himself as a durable, vocal and consistent force in his previous four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. Ward and Johnson are now among the top leaders of the secondary, and Ward has enjoyed seeing how Johnson has entrenched himself already as a new leader in Cleveland.
"He's already showing that he's a leader on this team," Ward said. "He's communicating out there again, guys in position to play and now he's making plays out there. So it's gonna be good to have him on."
In front of Ward, Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley will provide a boost to the defensive line. Their combination with All-Pro talent Myles Garrett could give the Browns one of the top defensive lines in the league, and for Ward, the increased pressure expected to be delivered in opposing backfields this season likely means more opportunities for interceptions.
"That was huge. We need those guys," he said. "We're a tandem and we work together, so you can never have enough great pass rushers. I'm looking forward to seeing those guys get to the quarterback and making my job easier in the back end."
The Browns have plenty of on-field work left to ensure it all goes to plan, and the true beginning of that process begins Tuesday with the first practice of minicamp.
Based on his early impressions of the unit, Ward believes those steps won't take long to complete.
"I think we can definitely get on the same page," he said. "A lot of guys came in early to get some work with one another and getting accustomed to one another. I think it'll all come together."